Inside every good Disney movie is a dark comedy trying to get out.
April 09, 2005
These days its tough to watch the comings and goings of the Walt Disney Corporation – the days of Uncle Walt talking from the screen to you before each new cartoon or movie is long past. Now all you see is a money-making machine in action. Pixar is leaving the fold under strained circumstances. Rumours persist that Disney bought the rights to various Japanese animated films only to have control of the public’s access to them. Heck, when the ranking member of the Disney family starts a website to talk smack about the company, then something’s terribly wrong. OK, not talk smack. Roy doesn’t talk smack. But boy is he giving them a stern talkin’ to!
It makes a person queasy. I’m sure a lot of you are like me, and rely on nostalgia the same way some people require a drink after a long day, or yoga. Or alcoholic Yoga (the drink does make you limber after all.) Dammit, sometimes a person has to unwind and diving momentarily back into childhood has its advantages.
There is one problem however – it’s tough to get lost in days gone by with a fully developed, very cynical adult brain working overtime. After a long day at work (deadlines, budgets, traffic, sonnunva), plugging in Mickey (or any cartoon really, but today we’re peering at Steamboat Willy. Wait, that sounds dirty) just gives your snarling forelobes something new to crank about (gaddammit, when the hell does it take to get Porco Rosso into a theater?!)
This saddened me for the longest time and I had to fall back on porn other video fare in order to relax. Then I had an idea – why not trick the brain away from grouchy cynicism and towards snarky cynicism? Yes, there are two kinds of cynicism. One kind is seeing the world at work and getting angry about it. This is good, but can burn you out – that’s what you’re trying to avoid. The other is seeing the world at work and pointing out its crazier antics, a chance to laugh to keep from crying – it’s not as focused as angry cynicism, but it’s refreshing. It can even revitalize.
Here’s my top 5 favorites;
#5 – Sandy Duncan’s Ass
She has visible panty line in The Cat From Outer Space. It’s true, at the end while she’s hanging out of the airplane. Dude, check it out for yourself. And the movie stars both M*A*S*H colonels as a bonus. But mostly it’s about staring at Sandy Duncan. I think that’s all there is to say on the matter really.
#4 – Blink and you’ll miss it.
Animators spend the entire day drawing frame after frame of the same scene. Even a fast animator probably doesn’t get through more than a few seconds a day. And some artists are just troublemakers. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Disney animation is loaded with little artist jokes, thing they never thought anyone would see. There are some truly notable and well-known instances, like the male trouser sea-cucumber (that’s code for “penis”) in the Little Mermaid poster (they say it wasn’t deliberate, but sometimes you’ve got to call a cigar a cigar.) But my favorite is the porn in The Rescuers. That’s right – boobies, to be exact. As our rodent heroes are launching into the air with their sea-gull pal, a window flashes by with a still of a nekkid lady inserted into it.
That kind of thing happens all the time – the books on the bookshelf in Paddington Bear (not a Disney property, I know. Sorry) are filled with naughty references. In both cases the joke was included because no animator every thought it would matter as the shot would whiz by too fast, right? No one imagined home video would turn into a major industry. In both instances the spot came from someone just happening to pause at that exact moment. Whoops. Not to worry (or be incredibly disappointed, whichever you like) the boobs are gone now, never to be seen again.
#3 – Jessica Fletcher v. National Socialism
In Bedknobs and Broomsticks there’s a lot to get swept up in; animated fish, the world’s coolest soccer game, a pint-sized Michael Caine (not really Michael Caine, who was at the time of this movie, fully grown – the kid just sounds like him), and a lot of singing and dancing. It dazzles you for years to come and it’s these things you remember fondly. Which means then that you’ve probably forgotten the Nazis. Yeah, I said it. Nazis. Smack in the middle of a Disney movie is a Nazis invasion force attempting to occupy an island off the coast of England. This kind of thing was actually attempted and in a couple of cases was successful, as British subjects found themselves under German occupation. Only it wasn’t this funny and had far less magic and singing.
I’ll say it one more time – Nazis in a Disney movie.
#2 – Speaking of Nazis Germany
At the end of the Second World War, there was a lot of scrambling. Like geo-political Buscemi and Keitels scrambling for guns to point at one another, the US and USSR were busy bees trying to get their hands on German scientists, cause hey, what’s a little science derived from human experimentation between friends? After the death of tens of millions of soviet citizens, the Russians got what they wanted out of weedy German brains by beating the hell out of them (literally and figuratively.) Always a lot more pragmatic, the US made them comfy. Nice houses, jobs, getting their families out of Europe safely (and secretly in some cases) no expense was spared to show them the American dream, in the hopes they would them work on a nuclear nightmare. In the case of Wernher Von Braun, they made him a star. Or Disney did at least. Looking to promote the idea of space exploration to America, von Braun worked with Disney animators to make a series of animated films about mankind’s future in space.
This is all well and good. The man who helps Germany bomb London wanted to work on space rockets. And they say he wasn’t a big Nazis, just working for them. Let bygones be bygones, right? Sure.
Only, when van Braun’s accented narration explains that when the Mars exploration fleet reaches their destination (yes, a fleet. Not one ship, but lots) the ships fire “test rockets” at the surface, I giggle every time. What the rockets are testing for is never explained, making it seem more than a bit frivolous and a bit cockeyed. That guy just couldn’t stop bombing things!
#1 – Grumpy’s Golden Shower
This one is my favorite, as it seems like the ultimate hilarious mistake or the world’s most cunning engineering hack. I’ve never seen it first hand, but I was told about it by a Disney employee.
On the original Disney lot a new building went up a number of years back to house much needed offices. Designed with a Rome style front, the cornice (that’ the right term?) at the top features The Seven Dwarves. On rainy days (infrequent in Southern California) they say the water runs down the façade in such a way that it a stream exits right around Grumpy’s hi-ho-hi-ho (that’s code for “crotch”) – Like I said, I’ve never seen with my own eyes and that it’s Grumpy doing it is just too perfect. But it warms my heart and tickles my funny bone, so I like to believe it’s true.
The fact is, as hard as they try at times to be completely and perfectly family oriented, Disney is filled with in-jokes, giggle-worthy gaffs, and skeletons in the closet. Will we ever think of Captain Eo the same way ever again? No. Can we reminisce about it with friends while sipping wine from a soda can? Yes. In fact I recommend it. There is only one way to push the evil minutiae of life from your brain while reconnecting with your favorite movies and that’s to fill up on the truly goofy trivia.
After all, it’s a world of laughter, a world of hope – sometimes you just have to work to get past the crap.
Got a favorite? Testify!